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Researchers Create Robot That Conveys Emotion While Reading

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Image: University of Tsukuba

A team of scientists at the Faculty of Engineering, Information and Systems at the University of Tsukuba have created a text message mediation robot that helps users control anger when receiving bad news. The device could have many applications, such as helping improve social interactions. 

The research was published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI

Regaining Human Elements

Given the digital world we currently live in, we are losing many of our human elements. For example, text messages are often relied on for apologies, which means less of us are having face-to-face apologies. Because of this, those who are receiving the apology often struggle to perceive the emotion behind it. 

The newly developed handheld robot is called OMOY, and it is equipped with a movable weight actuated by mechanical components located in its body. The robot is capable of expressing simulated emotions by shifting the internal weight. 

The researchers deployed the robot as a mediator for reading text messages. Whenever a participant received some type of upsetting news, OMOY would urge them to not get upset. In some cases, the robot would even demonstrate sympathy towards the participant. 

Professor Fumihide Tanaka is one of the authors of the research. 

“With the medium of written digital communication, the lack of social feedback redirect focus from the sender and onto the content of the message itself,” Prof. Tanaka says. 

Suppressing Negative Motivations

OMOY was designed in a way for it to suppress the user’s anger and other negative interpersonal motivations, which could include thoughts of revenge. At the same time, the robot fosters forgiveness. 

The experiments carried out by the team involved 94 people. They were tested with a message similar to “I’m sorry, I am late. The appointment slipped my mind. Can you wait another hour?” 

OMOY demonstrated an impressive ability to reduce negative emotions in these tests. 

“The mediator robot can relay a frustrating message followed by giving its own opinion. When this speech is accompanied by the appropriate weight shifts, we saw that the user would perceive the ‘intention’ of the robot to help them calm down,” Prof. Tanaka says. 

In order for the robot’s body expressions to be produced by weight shifts, the researchers didn’t need to rely on external components like arms and legs. According to the team, this implied that the internal weight movements could reduce anger or other negative emotions without body gestures or facial expressions.

Alex McFarland is an AI journalist and writer exploring the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has collaborated with numerous AI startups and publications worldwide.